Rock Hall and Country Music: Review of Dolly Parton’s Historic Appointment

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The various lists of nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — including the ballot for the Class of 2022 that was announced Wednesday — served as a reminder of just how inclusive the Cleveland museum has been over the years.

The inclusion of artists from genres like hip hop, pop, gospel and disco turned heads. But one genre that’s often overlooked when it comes to Rock Hall is country music.

That won’t be the case this year as Dolly Parton, nominated for the first time since becoming eligible in 1989, is among the biggest names in this year’s ballot. If inducted, Parton would become only the second pure country artist (and the first female of the genre) to be elected to Rock Hall in the “Performers” after Johnny Cash in 1992.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s history with country music is interesting. The museum has by no means ignored the country. Jimmy Rodgers was among the first group of “Early Influences” inductees at the first ceremony in 1986. Hank Williams was inducted into the same category in 1987.

There are over two dozen acts with country roots who have been inducted into the museum, including Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Les Paul, Rick Nelson and others. Several artists have also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame, including Rodgers, Williams, Cash, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Brenda Lee, Floyd Cramer, Ray Charles and Sam Phillips.

But Cash is the only artist elected to Rock Hall as a “performer” (not a secondary category) who has traditional country music as his signature genre. Cash is an icon and a no-nonsense inductee. But its association with legendary rock and roll institutions such as Sun Records and the Million Dollar Quartet has certainly made it easy for Rock Hall to claim it.

Country legends like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Waylon Jennings don’t have the same consideration. That’s what makes Parton’s inclusion on this year’s ballot so remarkable.

Her induction will prove historic as the first female country star to be elected by Rock Hall’s main pool of voters. It’s not a small committee that chooses the names, but rather more than 1,000 historians, journalists, and living Rock Hall inductees who make the decision.

That would be quite a feat, considering legends such as Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells, and Sara and Maybelle Carter have all been overlooked. Of course, if there’s one artist who could break down such a barrier, it’s Dolly.

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